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Disneyland Article
Animatronic Pirates And Ghosts Cannot Dress Themselves So She Helps Them

Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln
Brady Macdonald
February 28, 2020
March 10, 2020
Carlos the sopping wet “bilge rat” who gets dunked in a well all day long in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride goes through about a dozen shirts a year courtesy of Disneyland’s animatronic costuming department.

Disneyland’s Lupe de Santiago is on a first-name basis with Carlos and many of the nearly 1,000 audio-animatronic figures at the Anaheim theme park that need costume changes from time to time.

“Sometimes we change them every day,” said de Santiago, 61, of Norco. “It depends on the movement of the figures.”

De Santiago is one of more than 70 Disney cast members featured in the new “One Day at Disney” docuseries on the Disney+ streaming service and the accompanying coffee table book. Her episode debuts on Friday, Feb. 28.

Dressing a mechanical animatronic figure like Carlos the bilge rat is very different than dressing a living, breathing person, de Santiago said.

“With a human being, you can say, ‘Can you move your arm? Can you put your leg up?’” said de Santiago. “With the animatronics you cannot say, ‘Can you move?’”

Disneyland keeps three costumes on hand for each animatronic figure and more for characters like Carlos who spends his days bathing in well water. The animatronic costumes have secret zipper or Velcro enclosures on the backs of the arms, legs and bodies to allow for easier costume changes. Getting to the animatronic figures in an attraction like Pirates of the Caribbean can be tricky — with the scalawags standing on stairs, sitting on bridges and leaning from windows.

“You have to be careful how you step,” de Santiago said.

The biggest challenge Disneyland’s animatronic costuming department has to contend with: Wear and tear. The animatronic figures have a layer of “body protectors” that keep the internal mechanics from touching the fabrics. Despite the efforts, costumes wear out quickly on the endlessly moving animatronic figures.

“We have to change the costumes on the animatronics because they have so many movements,” said de Santiago.

Disney’s audio-animatronics have evolved through the years from pneumatic to hydraulic to electric figures. Some of the early A1 animatronic figures are still used in Disneyland rides like Pirates of the Caribbean. Plenty of the next-generation A100 animatronics can be found in Disneyland attractions, like the Jack Sparrow figures in Pirates of the Caribbean. The latest A1000 animatronics such as the complex space pirate Hondo Ohnaka figure show up in new lands like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Through the decades, Walt Disney Imagineering has updated and refurbished many of the older animatronic figures with more advanced machinery. Animatronics in Disneyland attractions typically get completely refurbished every 7 to 10 years.

Most of the costumes on the animatronics in It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion are identical to the originals from when the Disneyland rides opened decades ago. The original costumes along with the master patterns are kept backstage for reference purposes.

Costumes are replaced every four to six months — meaning most animatronic figures wear dozens of costumes in their lifetimes. Which keeps the staff in Disneyland’s sewing room busy year round.

One major headache: Hydraulic oil leaks. Hydraulic hoses occasionally leak, soiling the costumes of the animatronic figures. The Mr. Potatohead animatronic in front of Toy Story Midway Mania in Disney California Adventure gets a costume change on a daily basis. Disney keeps 12 costumes on hand for the super-sized spud who works tirelessly in Pixar Pier.

“He gets so oily,” de Santiago said.

De Santiago gets frightened by the 16th president when she changes the costume on his animatronic doppelganger in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

“He’s so real,” said de Santiago. “He looks like he’s going to stand up and ask me, ‘What are you doing here?’”

She’s also had her share of scares dressing animatronics in the Haunted Mansion. De Santiago has seen creepy shadows, sensed somebody behind her and felt something brush against her arm while working among the 999 happy haunts.

“Some people believe in ghosts, some people don’t,” she said.

De Santiago is just glad Disneyland costumers always work in pairs in the Haunted Mansion. There’s safety in numbers.

Her favorite animatronic figures to dress: The French can-can dancers in It’s a Small World. The frilly frocks worn by the high-kicking dancers were the first costumes de Santiago ever sewed when she started working on the animatronics costuming team, the 31-year Disneyland veteran said.

De Santiago has a hard time relaxing and enjoying the rides whenever she visits Disneyland as a guest. She’s always examining the costumes.

“When I come in, I have to go on Small World and Pirates,” she said. “As soon as I get in the attraction I go, ‘Oh no!’ I try to enjoy it, but it’s still work.”
Attractions Referenced

Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln

Haunted Mansion

It's A Small World

Pirates Of The Caribbean

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